I haven’t been as consistent with blogging as I would have liked, but I have the best excuse possible (in my own estimation). I’m writing a book. Like, actually writing it. Seriously, I have a concept, a main character, some sketches of the secondary characters, and a very high-level outline. The setting is coming together. I know, generally, what happens at the beginning, middle, and end.
This represents a HUGE shift for me, and I’m ridiculously excited about it. I thought I’d dash out a quick post with some recent lessons learned, in really no particular order. This is somewhat self-serving as I’d like to keep track of this for myself.
First, I needed to begin with the end in mind, as I’ve written about in the past. Not necessarily the end of the story itself, but a vision of the final product. My previous idea of what it took to write a novel was totally nebulous. It was overwhelming to try to just start writing. The idea of outlining appealed, because I use outlines in my professional writing, but I honestly had no idea what each point on the outline should contain.
The solution to this problem seems stupid obvious to me now, but there was something keeping me from seeing it before. My target genre for this story is young adult fantasy, and there are a few pretty proven models out there. I (finally!) arrived at a moment of inspiration and googled “Harry Potter story structure” a few weeks ago. I felt a thrilling little punch in the gut when that query delivered gold. One post in particular, from The Friendly Editor gave me exactly what I hoped for.
It turns out that J. K. Rowling followed a proven “template” (for lack of a better word) with the HP novels, and The Friendly Editor was nice enough to illustrate this for me (and you!). This alone began to lift the veil for me, but I also bought the book referenced in the post and began reading it immediately.
As I dug into the book, ideas for my own novel virtually started falling out of my head. I finished it shortly before I left on an “unplugged” trip to Bend, Oregon and had sketched an outline on one page of my journal before I left.
Which brings me to my next point: I carved out time to think deeply. Every morning in Bend, the Engineer and I started the day with quiet, creative time. We got up, made a small simple breakfast and good coffee, and spent the next few hours reading, writing, and thinking. It was THE BEST. I didn’t bring my computer, so I hand-wrote my ideas in my journal. On the first morning there, The Engineer asked when I planned to start writing my book. I responded, “I feel like it’s really close.” The next morning I was looking back through my notes from the day before and it struck me. I looked up at him and said, “It turns out I started writing my book yesterday.”
After the “deep work” of the morning, we went into town for lunch and to support the local bookstores. [old-timey cash register noise] We followed that with mountain biking on Bend’s world-class trail system. In the evenings we read our just-for-fun books. We didn’t check email, generally avoided social media (although I did keep my Instagram updated with my reading list progress and book acquisitions), and didn’t watch any television at all. This last one is par for the course–neither of us has even owned a TV in several years–but that was still an important aspect of the trip.
I cannot recommend the idea of a creative getaway highly enough. The template I would recommend and have every intention of repeating as soon as possible is this:
- Spend the morning on deep, creative work. Read the important books, do the important writing. Leave your phone in a different room. Make sure you won’t be derailed by hunger before you’re ready to be done. Set aside a specific place to do this work. We rearranged the vacation rental so the dining table was in front of the living room window overlooking the Deschutes river. This worked perfectly. We also agreed not to interrupt each other. This was hard when we got excited about ideas. I made notes to talk about at lunch. This worked reasonably well.
- Spend the afternoons in nature. This is something I hear repeated by serious creatives, the idea of afternoon walks through the woods. We rode mountain bikes and this worked just as well. We kept a pretty casual pace so we could safely allow our minds to wander. That feels like a key to me.
- Spend the evenings relaxing. Each day after mountain biking we sat in the sun and read the “brain candy” books (novels for me). Then we’d have a casual dinner and head back for more reading before a reasonable bedtime. I woke up refreshed and ready to work following this routine, even with a fair amount of appreciation for the Oregon beer scene.
If you’ve ever taken a creative getaway, I’d love to hear about it! Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.